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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cheney Unhurt in Afghan Base Attack

BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- A suicide bomber attacked the entrance to the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan on Tuesday during a visit by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, killing up to 23 people and wounding 20 more.

The Taliban claimed responsibility and said Cheney was the target.

Cheney told reporters that he heard "a loud boom," that the Secret Service informed him of the attack and that officials moved him to a bomb shelter at the Bagram base.

"As the situation settled down and they had a better sense of what was going on, I went back to my room," Cheney said.

Asked whether the Taliban were trying to send a message with the attack, Cheney said militants "clearly try to find ways to question the authority of the central government."

"Striking at the Bagram [base] with a suicide bomber, I suppose, is one way to do that," he said. "It shouldn't affect our behavior."

The vice president met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the capital, Kabul, about two hours after the bombing before leaving the country.

There were conflicting reports on the death toll. Karzai's office said 23 people were killed, including 20 Afghan workers at the base. Another 20 people were injured, it said.

A statement from NATO's International Security Assistance Force said initial indications were that three people were killed including a U.S. soldier, a U.S. contractor and a South Korean soldier.

Witnesses saw the bodies of at least 12 people in black body bags and wooden coffins carried from the base's entrance into a market area where hundreds of Afghans had gathered.

Friends and relatives cried and moaned as they carried or drove the bodies away from the base. Two men came to the base entrance crying and wringing their hands, one of them screaming, "My brother!"

U.S. Major William Mitchell said it did not appear the explosion was intended as a threat to the vice president. "He wasn't near the site of the explosion," Mitchell said. "He was safely within the base at the time of the explosion."

But a purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said Cheney was the target of the attack.

"We knew that Dick Cheney would be staying inside the base," Ahmadi said by telephone from an undisclosed location. "The attacker was trying to reach Cheney."

Mitchell said Cheney's overnight stay occurred only after a meeting with Karzai on Monday was canceled because of bad weather.

"I think it's a far-fetched allegation," he said, referring to the Taliban claim. "The vice president wasn't even supposed to be here overnight, so this would have been a surprise to everybody."